Mayor Tumlin eyeing councilman’s vacant property for tourism office
by Hilary Butschek
August 13, 2014 04:00 AM | 3554 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Philip Goldstein
Philip Goldstein
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin
MARIETTA — The City Council is expected to authorize the appraisal of Councilman Philip Goldstein’s fenced-off Marietta Square property tonight.

The council is eyeing the vacant 3,800-square-foot lot as a potential home for a tourism office. Talk of the relocation has stirred up a longstanding conflict between Goldstein and the city.

Tonight the council is expected to approve using $2,500 from its tourism budget, which comes from the 3 percent car rental tax, to appraise properties that could be used for a new tourism center.

“Could that be money be used to appraise a piece of property on the Square that (Goldstein) owns? Yes, but it’s not the only (property),” Mayor Steve Tumlin said.

Tumlin suggested using Goldstein’s empty Marietta Square lot as the site of a new city tourism office as part of his plan to revitalize the downtown.

Goldstein abstained from discussion about spending the money to appraise land on Monday, but he said his reason for removing himself was not related to his property. In fact, he refused to give his reason for abstaining when directly asked by an MDJ reporter.

During discussions about Tumlin’s plan to revitalize Marietta Square on Monday, Councilman Andy Morris asked: “Do we need to start putting out announcements for condemnations, for land we want to condemn?”

After a moment of silence, Tumlin answered, “no,” and said the plan was in the early stages.

Morris, who was sitting on the council dais, threw a smiling glance to Goldstein, who was sitting in the audience. Goldstein had stepped away from his seat, disclosing he had a conflict of interest when conversation turned to parts of the plan that could impact his property.

Goldstein said the property is leased but declined to say who the tenant is.

“There is a building that will be built there, and there is a business that will go there,” Goldstein said. “The construction of the building will start next summer.”

Goldstein said he will begin submitting plans for the building to the city soon, but would not give any details about the incoming business.

Tumlin pointed out Goldstein has used this line before.

“He’s been saying (he has a tenant) for years,” Tumlin said. “You ask him about it, and he gives you this blank stare.”

The fenced-off hole at 77 North Park Square, near the Strand Theatre, has been empty since 2010, when Goldstein razed a 1917-era, two-story building where the late Paul Cuthbertson’s operated his optometry clinic.

Goldstein bought the Cuthbertson building for about $575,000 in 2001, yet it remained vacant until he razed it nine years later. Goldstein said he wanted to build a five-story mixed-use building in its place, reaching a height of 66 feet. But in 2011, the City Council passed an ordinance lowering height restrictions on the Square from 85 feet to 54 feet. Goldstein filed a lawsuit against the city over the ordinance and lost. Since then, the fenced-off hole has periodically had a sign advertising a ground lease for the property.

The Marietta Visitors Bureau is located just off the train tracks by the Marietta Museum of History, but Tumlin said it needs to be more visible.

Tumlin said the council is looking at other properties for the new building in addition to Goldstein’s.

“There’s two or three properties that people (on the council) want to look at,” Tumlin said.

The mayor would not specify which properties were of interest to the council.

“That’s still in executive session — that part of it,” Tumlin said, meaning the council can discuss the potential purchase of land in private executive sessions.

Funding to buy property

The memo created by the city that describes the funding request states the money would “cover the appraisal expenses relating to proposed property acquisition.”

Tumlin said the funding request was put before the council because he wanted to be open about where the money for the appraisal was coming from.

“There would be no sense talking about a property if we didn’t have the funding source,” Tumlin said.

Councilman Morris’ remark directed at Goldstein on Monday was a suggestion that the city might condemn a property it wanted for a tourism center if a deal could not be reached between the city and owner.

Marietta attorney Doug Haynie said there is a standard that needs to be met in order for a city to legally take a property by eminent domain.

“It needs to be used for public purposes,” Haynie said.

Haynie said the city uses Georgia law’s definition of “public use,” which is described as “the possession, occupation or use of the land by the general public or by state or local governmental entities.”

Public use can also include any building used to “directly or indirectly serve the public,” according to Georgia law.

Tumlin would not say if the City Council will offer to buy Goldstein’s land. The mayor said the process of looking to relocate the Visitors Bureau has just begun.

Right now, he said, he is focused on using the city’s money from the tourism fund correctly.

“We just began the study process and part of that process is seeing if we can use this money,” Tumlin said. “All that has just started, and we’ve said it would have to be (a reason) that’s related to tourism.”

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